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"Mirror"- Did Sylvia Plath nail it?

Updated on April 1, 2016
Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath
Plath with her husband the famous poet,Ted Hughes
Plath with her husband the famous poet,Ted Hughes

Plath in a nutshell

As a poet of the 20th century, Plath earned such a reputation in her Poetry, that more or less of her work were considered as masterpieces. It's a pity that she died young, for she would have created more wonderful work that reach out right at the souls of readers.

She's said to have suffered from depression since a very young age, attempting suicide 3 times, in 1953,1962 and 1963 respectively, succeeding in her last attempt, by thrusting her head into a heated oven !

In spite of this condition she suffered, she seems to be a fun loving person, interested in travelling around the world, a gifted poet, artist who received many prizes including the famous Pultzer Prize for a collection of her confessionary poems.

Considering these very different, contrasting sides of her life, it's clear that she suffered from an identity crisis of her own. She was searching for who she really is. This nature of her is beautifully brought out in the poem "Mirror" as one of its major themes, where she seems to talk about not just of a social problem but also her personal experience.


"I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish."

"I am silver and exact...... I am not cruel, only truthful" In the first four lines of the first stanza, Plath has brought a mirror into life, making it the poetic persona. Here she makes us readers compare how very different this lifeless object is from humans, who are governed by preconceptions, who don't see the truth at a glance and even if they do, they chose to ignore it and go by their own beliefs. We can see how Plath is approaching and setting the foundation to mock at humans who are equipped with senses but are unable to see and accept the truth and reality, whereas the senseless mirror is able to do so.

" the eye of a little God four cornered" this metaphor is specifically used to appreciate the mirror,who sees all as it is,just like God. It continues by saying that even the wall that the mirror meditates on, flickers. Even though it has already become "a part of his heart", the mirror is not reluctant to say the truth. Plath tries to show the liking of people to please their loved ones, even if it requires lies to do so. She wants to convey the idea that it does not help anyone, that it's just temporary happiness, where both people most of the time know that those are mere words to please him/her. Plath wants to show that people are fooling none but themselves by such vain compliments, and that being truthful is the best thing to do.

Again, the word flicker is also used with the intention of showing that everything changes, flickers,That nothing remains the same, or simply saying in order to show the inevitability of life. This is another strong theme, that the poem is based on, where she focuses on showing how reluctant people are to accept change.

Even fairytales tell us about people not accepting change and decay!
Even fairytales tell us about people not accepting change and decay!

Now I'm a lake, a woman bends over me This line shows the change that the mirror goes through. Probably, the woman takes it off the wall to get a better look of herself. Without any complaint about the change, the mirror simply accepts it saying, now I'm a lake. Once again, peoples' behaviour to such change is compared to that of the mirror, where there'll be a lot of grumbles and mumbles, complaints, or simply not accepting the change.

Or, the lake could mean nothing more but just the image of a lake. Which is another clear surface through which one can see the reality. Plath here wants to show us that except the human kind, almost all others, lifeless objects included, are not afraid to see and accept the truth. She might as well want to show us her personal ideas of life here; "What is the point of living in a world full of unacceptability and untruthfulness? Being lifeless is a better choice". Following her attempts of suicide, it's clear that she's pouring her heart out at this point. Searching my reaches for what she really is further proves that Plath's connecting her personal experience here,the search for identity, what she has been doing all her life where she finally decided to go lifeless.

The candles and the moon are referred to as liars, in comparison to the misguides and misconceptions in life., that distract us from seeing the truth. And also the dissatisfaction of people in general, in front of reality. This is further brought out when the mirror reflects her back faithfully, the woman treats him with tears and an agitation of hand. Here, in terms of beauty and appearance,she's not ready to accept what the mirror offers.

"Faces and darkness separate us over and over", "Yet,I'm important to her,she comes and goes" . Plath wants to mock at the stupidity of men and women : who want to know the truth but appears to ignore it and seek for other comforts when the truth isn't very positive. She wants to show us how the yearning for truth in men is over powered by emotion. They are being dishonest and fooling none but themselves!

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman rises towards her, day after day, like a terrible fish. This is where the theme of appearance and reality strikes the strongest. It shows the vanity in people, how social acceptance of beauty has made people to fake appearance, and do whatever it takes to gain the impossible. But in the end, no matter how much we try, truth cannot be hidden for long. Nothing is perfect, nothing always happens the way we want it to happen. No matter how we dislike it, change,death and decay is inevitable. We just have to accept it.

decay,aging is inevitable
decay,aging is inevitable
Rhyming scheme
Appearance and reality
First person narration. personification- The mirror
free verse
Search for Identity
Metaphors- God,lake
Mutability of passage with time
Similies-like a terrible fish
Inevitability of change and death
Visual imagery- candles,moon,woman,mirror
Irony-" Rewards" me with an agitation of hand. "replaces the darkness"(probably her face is daker)


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